Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Coaching. Why Every Leader Needs a Coach!

Updated: Apr 11, 2019


Over ten years ago I was diagnosed with a condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. In simple terms, I stop breathing when I sleep. If that in itself weren’t a big enough problem, I stop breathing without even being aware of it! When I had my sleep test done, the results indicated that I stopped breathing over 210 times in a 7 hour period. That’s once every two minutes on average! You’re probably wondering, “How can someone stop breathing once very two minutes and not know it?” Little wonder why my energy levels waned fairly quickly and why I constantly felt like I needed a nap.

The good news is that the condition is treatable. But it required a rather significant adjustment to my life. I had to purchase a C.P.A.P (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. So now I sleep with a mask that covers my nose and keeps a continuous flow of air into my nostrils which keep my airways open while I’m sleeping. I no longer stop breathing when I sleep. Some people really struggle to adjust to the mask, but my adjustment period was non-existent. And I’ve felt better for it ever since. I got used to it the very first night and I’ve only had one night in the last 10+ years where I haven’t slept with my mask (I forgot to take it with me on a trip!!

Recently that got me to thinking about the parallels between Sleep Apnea and coaching. Let me help outline some of the parallels for you as a leader, and for your organization. Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t realize that I stopped breathing. The test revealed a blind spot. In your organization, you have blind spots. There are things going on that you are either unaware of or are choosing to ignore. There are opportunities that you’re not recognizing or seizing because you’re immersed in the tasks of the present or you’re afraid of the challenge. The net result is that your effectiveness as a leader is diminished, and your organization is not functioning at its full potential.

This is where coaching comes in. In some ways, a coach functions like a C.P.A.P machine - keeping your organizational airways open so that you can function at full capacity and thrive! Without a coach, your organization quite likely stops breathing and you’re not even aware of that.

This came crystal clear to me in a recent conversation I had with a friend who plays a coaching role in my life. I had been venting about a potential consulting opportunity that had been fraught with one frustration after another! Needless to say, venting seemed appropriate. But my friend made a comment that stopped me dead in my tracks! “Ken, they’re not your core customer!” DUH!!!!! Of course they’re not my core customer! It was humbling to say the least. Organizations pay me to coach them, and pay me well to coach them! I make those kinds of comments to them but I was unable to see the glaring error in my own approach to my consulting business! I had a HUGE blind spot. It was like this friend’s comment served to keep my leadership airways open so that I could function in my “sweet spot,” at full capacity and release some of the frustration I was feeling.


I have several people who serve a coaching role in my life. Almost every week I have a structured meeting with a peer coach. We coach each other and we have recently realized that we need to ramp up the intensity of our coaching with each other in order to help each of us thrive in our consulting and coaching businesses. I have other people who speak regularly into my life helping expose the blind spots I have, coaching me to get better as a husband, dad, leader, and person.

So here’s a few questions to reflect on:

Who’s coaching you?

Who’s the honest broker in your life who tells you what you need to hear not just what you want to hear so that you can thrive?

Who’s the honest broker for your organization helping your organization be all it could be?

If there isn’t at least one name that comes to mind immediately and if you’re not connecting regularly with that person, what’s stopping you from searching out that kind of relationship? I can assure you that if you’re prepared to do the work to find that person and persist in the coaching relationship, you won’t regret it. You’ll be better off for it. The people close to you will be better off for it. Your organization will be better off for it!